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Graduate students train for foreign service

Oct. 24, 2003

By Jennifer Cochran

Ohio University students come from every corner of the world and many will travel to the far corners of the world with degrees in hand when they leave Athens.

Ricardo Gonalez, Thomas Cook and Christopher Fournier are at Ohio University training for foreign service. Photo by Rick FaticaThree Ohio University graduate students have already worked abroad as commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, and are now pursuing degrees in international affairs as part of their extensive training to become Foreign Area Officers (FAOs).

Upon completion of the three-part training process, which includes intensive foreign language study, graduate studies focused on a particular region of the world and in-country training, FAOs work abroad with the government and armed forces to help with development projects and humanitarian aid missions. Typical FAO jobs include defense attachés or security officers in an American embassy.

Awareness and Understanding

Capt. Ricardo Gonzalez, who participated in the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, has enjoyed his work with counterparts in other countries during his 10 years in the infantry. He requested FAO assignment so he could be a part of the process of shaping and implementing foreign policy.

In addition to learning another language as part of his career training, Gonzalez says he has gained a better understanding of foreign cultures and a greater awareness of the world. "There's no substitute for personal relations in foreign affairs," he said. Gonzalez will put his native Spanish and his proficiency in Portuguese to work in a U.S. embassy in Latin America for his in-country training.

A first-year student in the Latin American Studies program, he was born in Madrid, Spain, and moved to the United States at age 17. To follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a member of the Spanish Air Force, Gonzalez enlisted in ROTC at the University of Cincinnati.

Eye-opening Experiences

Capt. Christopher Fournier also joined the military to follow in his father's footsteps. "It was what I grew up with, what I knew," said Fournier, who learned Spanish and traveled around South America as a teen while his father was stationed in Panama.

Fournier has also studied French and Swahili, and will be placed in an embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa. His experience in training to become an FAO has taught him to have an open mind and to look at things and events from other people's perspectives. "In traveling, talking to people you realize that their experiences are completely different ? the only way you can come to mutual understanding is to sit down and talk," he said.

Fournier arrived in Athens to start his graduate work much earlier than planned. While in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, last year for in-country training, political problems erupted and most expatriates were evacuated. He traveled around Africa for several months, hoping to wait out the turmoil, but had to return to the United States early.

Foreign Interaction

For Maj. Thomas Cook, who initially joined the army for financial reasons, interest in serving his country and international interaction have turned his military experience into a career. "You grow up with the idea that this is a pretty good country," Cook said. "I liked the idea of being able to say I served the country."

Cook chose to become a Foreign Area Officer so that he would be able to serve in another part of the world and interact with the people of that region. He spent a year stationed in Harare, Zimbabwe, and also traveled through many other African nations learning about the region and the geography, culture and economies of the countries. He observed how the military works within U.S. embassies and served as an elections monitor for the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe.

While at the University, he has studied the Swahili language to complement his French and once he completes the African Studies program he will return to Sub-Saharan Africa to work in one of the U.S. embassies. "The knowledge I've gained here will help me make better decisions as an attaché for an embassy," Cook said.

Army to Academia

Some adjustment is required as these Army officers move from a military environment to an academic setting and become part of the campus and community culture. After coming to Athens, Cook said he initially experienced culture shock from being away from the Army environment, but he said he believes the experience of being exposed to diverse viewpoints and arguments has helped him learn and grow. According to Gonzalez, his classmates are often surprised to learn that the Army puts such an emphasis on education. He said he appreciates being able to learn from non-Army instructors and scholars who represent diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.

Jennifer Cochran is the assistant director of communications and graduate programming for the Center for International Studies.
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